I recently celebrated a birthday. Hold old am I, you ask? Well, I’d love to tell you. But on one condition. Let’s not measure my age by the number of candles on the cake; because there would be so many too count yet the number would say so little about me. Last summer, I began a series of fictional short stories under the theme “Lorraine has Fallen.” I’d like to demonstrate my journey to improved emotional maturity in the most fitting way possible: by sharing the FINAL CHAPTER of the series.
LORRAINE HAS FALLEN: THE FINAL CHAPTER
There was no point in placing the proper number of candles on my birthday cake. There would be too many to fit anyway, & prove too difficult to blow out to boot. Plus, with the Covid-19 global pandemic, who would want to eat cake that the birthday boy just blew out the candles on? No. Given the circumstances, it seemed best to celebrate my number of years on earth with representative symbolism. I placed a single candle on a single piece of cake placed in front of me & blew it out. That lone act provided the metaphor behind our celebration. In doing so, I acknowledged another chapter of my life, promising to never forget it; while also turning to the next unread page. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. At least, that’s how the lyrics to a song I heard in my young adulthood went. Those lyrics stuck with me, although at the time, I didn’t really know why. But now, after so many candles, so many heartbreaks . . . I truly understood.
When Lorraine broke my heart by failing to uphold this standard of purity that I had thrust upon her several months ago, my sky came crashing down. I know it didn’t for everyone else. The world didn’t end; but something almost as big had ended for me. Lorraine was Purity’s Last Stand to me. I never intended to date her, but just knowing who she was & how she was validated how I had lived my life. My friends would admonish me for acting too passively, my family for being too picky; even my female friends for being unrealistic & remaining needlessly loyal to a person or ideal when such commitment was unwarranted. I was faithful to a flaw. But I couldn’t change; even when I felt out of place in time . . . a old-fashioned soul trapped in a modern world that scorned tradition, choosing instead to celebrate every single act as a “celebration of liberated thought”.” I was an artifact from another time in the dating world; a figure better suited for an epic poem from literature class than a legitimate suitor in this Brave New World. But when I met Lorraine, & watched how she behaved for several years; how a girl that beautiful could remain so modest & willing to go extended periods without needing a relationship–she reminded me why I am the way I am. There are people who are worth it; there are people who understand. Lorraine validated my choice to live life as a nice guy & still believe I wasn’t doomed to finish last. She was the last remnant of Eden on earth; a metaphor for my vindication. I had been right all along; everyone else had been wrong.
When Lorraine broke my heart, in large part unbeknownst to her, she sucked the color out of my world. All I saw was black, white, & grey. Every time I looked up at the sky, it seemed to be raining. It wasn’t quite Hell, but an emotional version of Seattle inside a black & white TV set at least; and that’s bad enough! And that’s where I was. All the while, as I pined for freedom from this oppressive disappointment, I’d tell myself that I’d live to see the day the rain would stop. Even when it seemed it would never end; even when I thought a thousand forevers would pass before the day would finally arrive–I told myself, even LIED to myself, that I’d see the sun again. And when I did, that day would be one of dramatic triumph.
Everyone told me I would “find someone” again–someone “better.” Well, if those same people only bothered to count the candles on my cake, they’d realize how disingenuous their pep talks sounded. If they had known Lorraine for themselves, they’d realize how insulting their assessment of finding “someone better” was. Lorraine was special. On her worst day, she was still one in a million; & I don’t know if I will have spoken to a million girls in the span of an entire lifetime. Find someone else? Sure, maybe. But someone better? How ignorant. And then, my birthday came.
By the time I blew out that single candle on that single slice of cake placed in front of me, I had actually met someone new. She’s more of a friend, really. I had known her for a couple of years already. But just recently, we started talking outside of our normal circle of acquaintance. The way she reacts to me now is different from anything I’ve experienced in recent memory. It’s something about the way she looks at me when I talk to her; her eyes seem some attentive, as if what I’m saying is actually important. I’m accustomed to feeling unimportant. There’s also something about the way I don’t seem able to do anything wrong in her presence, even while I’m not striving to be perfect in front of her. I remember when I first noticed it, I paused. My alarm bells went off. That moment had a hint of connection that felt only remotely familiar, like a pleasant scent from a holiday dinner in my mother’s kitchen as a child . . . in a past life. It actually felt uncomfortable at first; mostly foreign, but faintly familiar too.
I don’t mean to get ahead of things; she’s not my girlfriend, for sure. But she has gradually begun replacing all the blocks of time that have for so long been the exclusive domain of Lorraine. I questioned what it is that I feel for her; at first. I was convinced that it couldn’t POSSIBLE be ROMANCE. Although she always cheered me up when I saw her, our interactions didn’t stun me into inaction–didn’t render immobile—didn’t rob me of the talent of speech. I didn’t yearn to kiss the ground she walked on–and, for those of you who have endured my incessant discussions about Lorraine, this yearning isn’t THAT MUCH of an EXAGGERATION!
I was born on Valentine’s day. I had always been a bit melodramatic, especially when it came to romance. While my interactions with my new friend feel positive & wholesome, they lack that sensation of “God placing all of existence on pause for a moment” when I see her. I don’t feel “newly born” when I see her like it felt with Lorraine; it’s more the feeling of your blanket when you wake up cold in the middle of the night, or your favorite hoodie when you’re sick on the couch–comforting. It feels less like a movie–or, more befitting, “an epic poem;” & more “every day”. While my interactions with Lorraine has always carried a greater deal of drama with them, they also proved utterly exhausting. It was as if every little thing she did, every little chance encounter, would either hype me up until I’d exhaust myself on the excitement, or drain me of my energy when she disappointed me. While less “epic” than my interactions with Lorraine, my interactions with my new friend seem more sustainable. If this isn’t attraction, isn’t romance . . . then WHAT is it?
By the time I was to blow out the candle on that single flickering flame before me, I had the answer. My whole ordeal with Lorraine, while intoxicating, was all fantasy. What I was experiencing in the moment with my new friend–that was real life. I’ve never used drugs; but the one time I got high was as a patient in the hospital. I had been admitted for severe dizziness & nausea. The nurses injected something into my arm. I could feel the cool fluid ease into my vein at first, then quickly disseminate. Inside of two seconds, they had me transferred to another dimension. At 00:1, I was lying in bed, groggy with pain, vaguely aware of three nurses standing to one side of my bed. At 00:6, I couldn’t stop laughing, still vaguely aware of the three nurses standing by my bed. At 00:9, I was traveling through a tunnel of fast moving flashing lights, similar to the sensation of riding Space Mountain at Disney World. At 1.9, I was aware of my sleepiness despite laughing hysterically. And in my next sentient moment, it was morning. I won’t lie about this–it was FUN! But I wouldn’t want to remain permanently in that state, much less make important decisions while in that state. It’s horrifying to think that, during this entire Lorraine ordeal, that’s essentially what I had been doing. I had been at the wheel of my own life while intoxicated, making decisions about my employment status, my reputation, & other matters of far-reaching import while intoxicated by an emotional high, at best–and a deep emotional low, at worst. I had told myself this before; but sometimes, we even have to remind ourselves of the lessons we’ve already learned. “If every day is a holiday, then there are NO holidays.”
Whatever is happening between me & my new friend, whether it’s romance or whether it fizzles off into nothing–it’s real world, not fantasy. If this isn’t romance, then what is it? Well, I guess this is “growing up.”
Having thus concluded, I blew out the single candle on my slice of cake. I watched as the flame as it initially resisted, then conceded defeat. I saw the plumes of smoke, dark & fierce at first, lighten & then dissipate into nothing until what was left was just a candle that once carried a flame. I looked out the window & could see in the fading daylight that the rain had finally stopped. Come to think of it, it hadn’t rained all day & I hadn’t even noticed. Huh. “I knew this day would come,” I thought to myself. I just always believed it would feel different.” The greatest measure of emotional maturity is self-awareness.
“This was the best birthday gift ever (aside from life itself, of course),” I mused. “Freedom from the rain.” I had always expected that this day would arrive with an air of dramatic triumph; but felt just like an ordinary day. Ordinary by my new standards, at least; probably better this way.
How old am I? you wondered earlier. Well . . . old enough to have grown up, at least. Finally.
Maybe I was still right regarding Lorraine. Maybe I wouldn’t find someone “better ” than she is. But that’s asking the wrong question anyway. I just want to find someone “better for me.” And, in terms of everything else, outside of relationships . . . that should be my focus moving forward. I need to forget about achieving “better” & focus on achieving “better for me.” A better fit, a better attitude–just better for me.
After so many candles, so many heartbreaks—I finally understood.
Farewell, Lorraine. No hard feelings; just . . . farewell.
THE END . . . and yet, THE BEGINNING
Inspired, in part, by the lyrics of a twenty-year-old alternative rock song by Blink182. See lyrics below.
But everybody's gone And I've been here for too long To face this on my own Well, I guess this is growing up Well, I guess this is growing up.